Ajar to the Night by Autumn Richardson, a work of three linked poems, is concerned with metempsychosis – the transmigration of the soul (psyche) from one physical body (soma) to another following death. Its western origins can be traced to Orphism, where the eternal cycle of metempsychosis can only be broken by initiation into the Dionysian Mysteries. Orpheus himself was celebrated by the Greeks as the greatest magician, musician and poet who ever lived, so it is entirely appropriate that the topic is dealt with in Autumn’s beguiling verse. There are in fact subtle echoes of the myth of Orpheus in Ajar to the Night: his descent into the underworld, his beautiful music, his return and dismemberment, and the selection of a new body for his immortal soul (a swan.) The interpretation below is my own. There are no doubt dozens of other ways to read this enigmatic work.
The first poem of the three is ‘You Came To Me.’ Harbingers are described as coming to the corpse in question as a song, a torch, a furious wind and a howl. This echoes the wailing of the Orphic necromancer-shamans known as Goes (from which the term goetia derives) who presided over Greek funerary rites and escorted the dead to (or called the dead back from) the underworld. The psychopomps attend to the ‘wick of bones / floating in an oil of blood’ and ‘the wounds of my own making’ (suggesting a suicide?) They then ‘perforate the casing that would kill me’, releasing the soul from its previous form. The soul lowers itself ‘through oesophageal stones’ into ‘a place without names’ where ‘forms are malleable’ – the underworld; the ‘land where forms are shed.’ The soul is invited to ‘mix a colour of an unknown hue’; to ‘transmute into another orphaned form’ and ‘construct another skin’, thereby beginning the process of metempsychosis.
The second poem – ‘In All Her Names And Forms’ begins with the words ‘I am returned.’ The soul is enfleshed and becomes familiar with its new body. It attempts to ‘retrieve the lost words’ and ‘excavate the memories’ of its former life after being ‘so long buried.’ There are allusions to temples of the dead and rays of sun entering a long house – reminiscent of Neolithic tombs. Perhaps the newly-incarnated soul visits the corpse of its old body? Either way, at the end there is a remembrance.
The Final poem is ‘Ajar To The Night’ and seems to be a meditation on the process of metempsychosis, perhaps a dialogue between the soul and the body. The verse reflects on the cycles of death and rebirth, forgetting and remembrance, the dissolving of the body and its eternal enfleshing and how, through an awareness of those cycles, ‘we make an art of our lives.’
The writing is spare, the words meticulously chosen. The whole process of transmigration is parsed through natural imagery, giving it an animistic depth. This is an intimate, sensorial work that explores the mysteries behind skin and life – the chthonic journeying of the soul. It is deeply meditative and will continue to reveal and inspire with repeated readings.
The fine edition of this book is a wonderful artefact, particularly the hand-made ‘cave’ paper, which is used in the book’s endpapers and around the robust slipcase (as heavy as the book itself), rendering each copy unique. Props should also go to Scarlet Imprint for its continued investment in ‘esoteric poetry’, for which it has impressive form. Poetry as a vehicle for the transmission of gnosis is a raison d’être for Nemglan Press, but it’s appeal remains (for now) quite niche.
As an aside, there is another poem about metempsychosis, written by John Donne in 1601. It is long, but acts as an interesting book-end to ‘Ajar To The Night.’ Its references to limbs, wombs, bones, flesh, blood, spirit, pith, marrow, even souls hanging on a tree, to some extent foreshadows Autumn’s work:
Those sinowie strings which do our bodies tie,
Are raveld out; and fast there by one end,
Did this Soule limbes, these limbes a soule attend;
Further information on the Goes can be found in Geosophia: The Argo of Magic by Jake Stratton-Kent, also published by Scarlet Imprint.
'Our Failing Shadows' by Alexander Menid is the first in our Black Chapbook series of occult poetry. Its 25 works of poesis have been described as ‘delicious’, ‘beautiful and captivating’ and ‘powerful’.